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Powerful hardware isn’t the only consideration. A gaming laptop’s processor and graphics card produce a lot of heat, and if the laptop doesn’t have an effective cooling system, it can overheat. The laptop also needs a good keyboard and solid build quality. Even though Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 1070 can run games on high settings at 4K resolution, we still recommend 1080p displays because 4K screens are currently too expensive for most of our readers.
The first thing you'll notice about this new HP gaming laptop is the exclusive Star Wars design. On the outside, the laptop features Star Wars engravings and a backlit, Jedi-red keyboard. But that's not all: The laptop comes pre-loaded with a ton of digital Star Wars items! You get rare wallpapers, screen savers, concept art, and original trilogy storyboards from the Star Wars archives. Plus, you can customize all system sounds with built-in audio files from the movies (think R2-D2 and light sabers).
Nvidia's G-Sync and AMD's FreeSync technologies are more down-to-earth. They help increase the quality of the gaming experience and smooth out frame rates by letting the laptop screen refresh at a variable rate that depends on the output of the GPU. Look for support for one of those technologies if you're a stickler for perfectly rendered visuals. They tend to be in pricier machines, though, and G-Sync is far more common.
A computer’s internal components heat up whenever a lot of demand is placed on them. Despite the best efforts of manufacturers to dissipate this heat using fans and heat pipes, some areas of a laptop tend to get hotter than others. This can make gaming laptops quite uncomfortable to use (especially when placed on their user’s lap!); this high heat can also endanger a laptop’s internal electronics if the computer’s ventilation slots become obstructed (be careful not to let your computer’s ventilation system get clogged up with dust!). If you intend to place your computer on your desk and use an external mouse for gaming, its temperature will not be a major consideration.
Graphics: You can’t upgrade your laptop’s graphics processor, and if you cut corners you’ll have to shell out for a new computer sooner to keep playing new games. (Trust me, I’ve made this mistake.) Notebookcheck’s tests show the GTX 1060 and the GTX 1060 Max-Q near the 60 fps threshold in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and Shadow of the Tomb Raider on high settings, while the GTX 1050 Ti barely scrapes by at 31 fps. But all three GPUs hit at least 60 fps in Overwatch on “epic” settings at 1080p. The GTX 1060 and its Max-Q counterpart support VR, while the GTX 1050 Ti has extremely limited VR support.
Looking to buy a new laptop for yourself or that someone special on your list this holiday season? After an October packed with fresh new device reveals from Google, Microsoft, and Apple, and other major companies, now is the perfect time to head to the shops. There are plenty of good sales on MacBooks, gaming laptops, sleek and light Windows 2-in-1s, Surface devices, and more for Cyber Monday.
Display: We focused on 15-inch models for this guide because they strike a good balance between screen size and relative portability, and they fit our budget. Our cheap gaming laptop pick needs a 1920×1080 screen—no exceptions. Lower resolutions look terrible, and higher resolutions aren’t affordable yet. (And our budget laptops’ GPUs can’t play games well at resolutions above 1080p anyway.) Very few laptops in this price range have high-refresh-rate (120 Hz or 144 Hz) panels, but it’s a nice bonus, especially for first-person games like Overwatch or Doom; the higher the refresh rate, the smoother animations appear, as long as the frame rate is also high. IPS screens tend to provide better viewing angles and color reproduction over TN panels, but they can also be more expensive, so we treat them as a preference but not a requirement.
The processor is the heart of a PC, and in many current gaming laptops you'll find a quad-core 7th Generation Intel Core i5 or Core i7 CPU based on the Kaby Lake chipset. Intel's new 8th-generation "Coffee Lake" CPUs launched a few months back in laptops, however, so you can expect them to become the norm going forward. Many of the Coffee Lake chips you'll see in gaming laptops include two more cores (six, instead of four), bringing more overall speed and much-improved performance on multithreaded tasks, but the upside for gaming is relatively minimal.
Following this logic, we have witnessed the introduction of many relatively inexpensive gaming laptops such as the Acer V Nitro (later simply called Nitro), HP’s Omen, and Lenovo’s Legion computers. Retailing for around 800 to 900 dollars, these “entry-level” gaming laptops are equipped with a Core i5/GTX 1050 graphics chip/processor combo that is powerful enough for gaming (if you are not interested in playing the very latest games or are willing to trade some display quality for greater gameplay fluidity).
All the way thru our review and usage, we never noticed eve a bit dim on the ASUS FX502VM display. Bright, filled with color, alive vivid look and wide angle viewing display is a rare feature. On our light meter during benchmarking, ASUS’s notebook detected an average brightness of 289 nits, which for a laptop from this class is an awesome leap from the others of the same class.
Know that the presence or absence of a dedicated control utility is a big differentiator between low-end and high-end gaming mice. Some cheap gaming mice will come with no software of their own. Without such a utility, you'll be able to customize mouse commands only within a game (via its in-game menus) or in Windows' own mouse settings. That's not necessarily a bad thing; just know what you are getting, or not getting.
Wirecutter has spent more than 200 hours over the past five years researching and testing dozens of gaming laptops, and our PC team has more than 37 years of combined experience covering laptops. I’ve personally tested, lived with, and reviewed hundreds of laptops, and I’ve spent hands-on time with countless other models while covering the CES trade show, attending events, and visiting stores. I’ve reviewed most gaming laptops—both budget and high-end—released in the past six years, and I’ve spent thousands of hours gaming on laptops since high school.
The graphics card is the heart of your gaming experience and is one of the first and foremost things that you need to check out. If you intend to play high-end games at maximum resolution, then choosing a gaming laptop with a powerful graphics card is a necessity. If you don’t need top-of-the-line performance, an entry-level GPU will do the trick. It all comes down to personal preference and the type of games that you would be playing on your laptop. High-end games such as The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Watch Dogs 2, Mass Effect: Andromeda, Assassin's Creed: Origins, Rise of the Tomb Raider, and Battlefield 1 require an advanced and powerful graphics card to play them at maxed-out settings. It helps the laptop handle the intense frame-rate and rendering that such advanced games require. Game makers are constantly coming up with games that are better than the ones that came earlier. With the level of video games’ graphics constantly on the rise, it is essential to get a laptop with a good graphics card to make your games run seamlessly.
Dell recently phased out its entry-level gaming-laptop series in favor of something more exciting and powerful. Meet the G7 15. Visually, the G7 15 is cut from a different cloth than either the Inspiron or the Alienware brands, giving the laptop an identity of its own. And it offers solid overall performance for all your multitasking needs. But more importantly, thanks to its Max-Q GTX 1060, you can expect good frame rates on AAA titles on medium to high settings.
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